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Third edition of USA copyright office compendium – audiovisual work copyright registration issues


Generally (draft), a videogame contains two major components: the audiovisual material and the computer program that runs the game. If the copyright in the audiovisual material and the computer program are both owned by the same entity, they should be registered together on one application. By contrast, if the copyright in the program and the audiovisual material are owned by different parties, separate applications will be required.

An application to register a videogame should clearly state whether the claim extends to the computer program, the audiovisual material, or both components. If the authorship is described simply as “videogame,” the registration specialist may communicate with the applicant if the scope of the claim is unclear from the deposit material. For example, if the deposit material does not include source code for the computer program, the claim will extend only to the audiovisual material.

Videogames are commonly released on several different platforms. Applicants often attempt to register each platform separately. Generally, when the same work is published in different versions, the Office will issue separate registrations for each version only if they contain separable copyrightable material.

If there are copyrightable differences in the audiovisual material (or the computer program) for each platform, the Office may issue a separate registration for each version. In this situation, the deposit material for each version should show some of the differences. In addition, the applicant should confirm, either in the Note to Copyright Office field or in a cover letter, that the audiovisual material (or computer program) differs between versions.

If the differences do not appear in the audiovisual content, but instead appear solely in the computer programming that is used to achieve compatibility with the hardware and/or software for a particular device, console, platform, or operating system, the applicant should register only one version of the audiovisual work. This version will cover the copyrightable content in the other versions.

If the audiovisual material is the same for each platform and the versions are published on separate dates, the applicant must register the version which was published first.

Karaoke Displays

Karaoke displays may be registered as audiovisual works if they contain a series of images other than scrolling preexisting lyrics. A display containing only scrolling preexisting song lyrics is not copyrightable.

Apps for Computers, Tablets, or Mobile Phones

Apps may constitute audiovisual works. Many apps contain a significant amount of preexisting artwork, such as icons. In such cases the preexisting material should be identified and excluded from the application, and the claim should be limited to the new copyrightable authorship. The new copyrightable authorship should be described as “audiovisual material,” rather than “app” or “computer app.”

Banner Advertisements

Some banner advertisements are comprised of images and words that flash or scroll (using Java or flash-based script) across a small window. Banner advertisements also may be comprised simply of images, text, and a link. The Office will consider the work as a whole to determine whether it contains sufficient copyrightable expression.

Slide Presentations

A slide presentation is a series of stills on a computer screen, videodisc, or videotape intended to be viewed as a single cohesive work, such as a PowerPoint presentation. If the work contains preexisting visual or aural material, that material should be identified and excluded from the claim, and the claim should be limited to the new copyrightable authorship.

Many works that contain audiovisual material also contain literary and visual arts authorship, and sometimes it is difficult to determine which type of work should be specified in the application. This is particularly true for CD-ROMs, multimedia works, and website content. As a general rule, the applicant should select the type of work that is appropriate for the predominant form of authorship in the works.

For example, a videogame that is primarily audiovisual should be registered as a “Motion Picture / AV Work.” A CD-ROM that contains a collection of photographs should be registered as a visual art work. A website that predominantly contains text should be registered as a literary work.

For some types of audiovisual works, the applicant may deposit identifying material instead of submitting a complete copy of the work. If the applicant uses the term “audiovisual” to describe the authorship in the work, the registration specialist will examine the deposit copy(ies) for audio and visual material.

If the applicant uses specific terms, such as “music” or “sounds,” the specialist will examine the deposit copy(ies) for that type of authorship. Thus, if the applicant submits identifying material in lieu of the entire work, the identifying material should contain the authorship that is specifically claimed in the application.

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